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The end was nowhere in sight, and indeed a race war on the nation's streets seemed a real possibility.
Certainly African Americans displayed growing frustration at the slow pace of reform.
An explosion of racial outrage after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., brought smashed windows and tense confrontations between police and protesters within a few blocks of the White House.
The Columbia unrest unfolded at a time of growing student protest across the country against the war in Vietnam, against restrictive campus policies, and against traditional curricula and courses.
At Columbia, violent protests led to the cancellation of final exams and an early end to spring semester.
In their distress, many Americans looked to a leader who could heal the nation's wounds. Kennedy paid tribute to King's life and work and then appealed directly to his audience.
"For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling.
In France, left-wing students occupied the University of Paris.